Polyrhythms are used quite often in many genres of music. They create an unresolved feeling by tricking the listener’s perception of the song’s meter. The following examples will familiarize you with some of these rhythms while strengthening your rhythmic vocabulary.
Now that we have an understanding of what polyrhythms are, let’s look at the first example. Ex. 1 is a four-over-three polyrhythm between the snare and bass drum, with eighth-notes on the hi-hat. While counting the implied sixteenth-notes (1e&a 2e&a 3e&a) try tapping the bass drum line with your foot. Then tap the snare drum rhythms with your hands. Beginning on the downbeat, the snare plays every third sixteenth-note while the bass drum plays every fourth. When you’re able to hear and feel those two rhythms together, try adding in the hi-hat.
By inverting the groupings and the instrumentation in Ex. 2, we now have a three-over-four polyrhythm. This time the snare plays every fourth sixteenth and the kick plays every third. Notice the difference in the feel of the pattern. Ex. 3 demonstrates a different way to phrase the polyrhythm. This time you’re playing sixteenth-notes between the snare and kick, while the hi-hat outlines the three-note grouping.
You can also apply polyrhythms to rudiments. In Ex. 4 we’re using the double-stroke roll (RRLL) with accents on every third note. If you put that over quarter-notes on the bass drum, you have a four-over-three polyrhythm.
Ex. 5 is a four-over-five polyrhythm. The same principle is applied here. Count 1e&a 2e&a 3e&a 4e&a 5e&a and tap each line individually, then together. The bass drum is playing every fourth sixteenth-note, and the snare is playing every fifth. Add the hi-hat when you’re comfortable. By inverting the snare and bass drum pattern from Ex. 5 we have the five-over-four polyrhythm that’s shown in Ex. 6. Now the snare plays every fourth sixteenth and the kick plays every fifth.
In Ex. 7, we’re playing sixteenth-notes between the snare and kick while the hi-hat is phrased in five. Start off playing the snare and kick by themselves before adding the hi-hat. Now try applying the four-over-five polyrhythm to double strokes in Ex. 8. The polyrhythm is outlined by accenting every fifth note on the snare while playing quarter-notes on the bass drum.
Ex. 9 shows a four-over-seven polyrhythm. Seven-note phrases take longer to resolve, so don’t forget to count (1e&a 2e&a 3e&a 4e&a 5e&a 6e&a 7e&a). Now in Ex. 10, invert the hands and feet to create a seven-over-four polyrhythm.
In Ex. 10, the hi-hat plays every seventh note over solid sixteenths between the snare and bass drum. And finally, Ex. 11 is the four-over-seven polyrhythm using double strokes. These examples are just a few of the infinite ways to arrange polyrhythms. The most important thing with these types of exercises is to be able to hear and feel how the rhythms work off of one another. Once you’ve internalized them you’ll be able to phrase them any way you want.
Chris Pennie was a founding member of Dillinger Escape Plan and now plays drums with Coheed & Cambria.
Reprinted with permission from Polyrhythmic Potential by Chris Pennie, published by Carl Fischer.